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Arise Sir Derek

'Maori and the Maori art world, this award is for you'

WHEN Professor Derek Lardelli got the letter telling him of his knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List he thought someone was playing a joke on him.

“Tairawhiti people love playing jokes,” Sir Derek said. “We didn’t think it was real and then we re-read it and thought ‘wait, this is actually correct’.”

Derek Arana Te Ahi Lardelli has been made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Maori art.

The honour recognises Gisborne-based Sir Derek’s achievements and contributions as a moko artist, visual artist, kapa haka performer, orator, composer, graphic designer, researcher, cultural consultant and educationalist.

But while the honour is presented to an individual, Sir Derek said he was receiving it on behalf of his people — that it belonged to the people.

“We have to think about all the people who aren’t with us now — all the people who have made a life commitment and passed on, particularly over the Covid time.”

He felt humbled to accept it for them.

“I think the crux of it is that it has been awarded for Maori art — Maori and art. That’s what drove us to saying ‘yes’ (accepting the honour), because Maori art is being acknowledged and recognised.

“It wasn’t that long ago when Maori art wasn’t being recognised.”

At the beginning of last century there were laws put in place, the Tohanga Suppression Act, “to stop us practising who we were and who we are today,” he said.

Sir Derek said the Queen’s Birthday honour “acknowledges Maori art as being an important part of who we are as Maori and who we are as creatives”.

He paid tribute to the ability of “creatives” to express themselves during the Covid-19 restrictions — “to use modern tech to stretch out and reach people who are troubled or lonely”.

Sir Derek described art as “a means of connecting to the soul”

He described art as “a means of connecting to the soul” and in reference to Maori art specifically, said the Queen’s Birthday honour was “a wonderful gesture” that recognised artists and Maori in general.

“Maori and the Maori art world, this award is for you. It doesn’t matter where you come from — not just Tairawhiti — it’s all of Maoridom that has a place in this award, and rightly so.

“Maori art has been a visual communicator for our people for so long.”

Sir Derek acknowledged the vital role of his wife Rose, along with their children and whanau.

“We’ve made this our life’s work on behalf of all people to give back through the arts.

“They are my strength behind what I do. Whanau supporting whanau whanui from Whangara Mai Tawhiti, Manutuke, and right through the Tairawhiti has been the fabric that has made me who I am.

“Now our children are being added to that dimension and to have that honoured means it honours Toi Maori Aotearoa, Toihokura and all the young people wanting to further their studies in Maori art . . . it says to them ‘we can do this’.”

Sir Derek, 59, is Ahorangi (professor) at the Toihoukura School of Maori Visual Art and Design in Gisborne and has been prominent in promoting Maori arts nationally and internationally.

His artwork is found in national and international institutions, public buildings and private collections.

He created the Maui sculptures on Hikurangi maunga (mountain) and the entrance-way installation for the Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition at Te Papa museum of New Zealand in Wellington.

As chairman of national ta moko arts collective Te Uhi a Mataora, he has been heavily involved in the retention and development of the rituals, karakia (prayer) and oral histories associated with ta moko, and is credited with leading the renaissance of this art form.

He is a composer, performer and leader of Whangara mai Tawhiti kapa haka group — twice winners of Te Matatini national competition.

He composed the New Zealand Universities rugby team haka and most recently the Poutangata haka for the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC).

His most recognised composition is the All Blacks’ haka Kapa O Pango.

Sir Derek is a trustee of Toi Maori Aotearoa and member of Te Papa Tongarewa’s Repatriation Advisory Panel and the NZOC Maori advisory committee.

He has served on the Waitangi Tribunal and was a New Zealand Arts Foundation trustee.

Other past honours and awards include a University of Waikato Honorary Doctorate, 2018 Te Tohu Tiketike o Matariki supreme award winner, 2018 Waiata Maori Music Awards Keeper of Traditions award and the 2014 Creative New Zealand Te Waka Toi Tohu Ake award.

He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Maori art in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

KNIGHTED FOR SERVICES TO MAORI ART: Professor and now Sir Derek Lardelli working on a whakairo. Sir Derek was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Picture by Norm Heke/Creative NZ